I have a post up on Sarah Lohman’s blog, Four Pounds Flour! If you haven’t read her book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, get thee to a bookstore (or a library), STAT.
Below, an excerpt from my Chinatown bakery post:
“That’s $12.50,” said the woman behind the counter.
Sarah and I exchanged a look. We had just spent the last several minutes poring over the long glass pastry cases in her neighborhood Chinese bakery, scrutinizing the fluffy rolls and imagining all their possible fillings. In the end, we’d selected 10 pastries, hoping to cover all our bases. We carried the goodies back to her apartment in paper bags.
“$12.50 wouldn’t get you ten pastries anywhere else,” I remember saying. “At a French bakery, it would get you, like, two. Maybe three.”
Sarah shrugged. “That’s one great thing about Chinese bakeries.”
But once I started digging into it, “Chinese bakery” started to feel like an oxymoron. Historically, Chinese pastries weren’t baked–they were steamed. But all the treats in our paper bags had definitely seen the inside of an oven. So if traditional Chinese pastries aren’t baked, what are these pastries and where are they coming from?